Word-Driven Ministry Is What We Need the Most

Perhaps you’ve seen the now-viral video of Christians in China receiving their Bibles for the first time. Cheers and tears of joy fill the room as they open the suitcases full of Bibles. After the initial excitement, there seems to be a holy hush that comes over the room as each person savors the privilege of holding their own Bible in their hands. One young woman embraces her Bible like a treasured, priceless gift. She then proclaims in a tearful voice: “This is what we needed the most!” 

When I first watched the video, I, too, had tears of joy for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But I also had a sense of wistful envy, as we so often take for granted the freedom we have to study God’s Word openly together. That video took me back to the mid-nineties when our young family lived in Beijing. We’d have to show our passports to enter the international church each Sunday because the Chinese nationals weren’t allowed to worship with us or even attend the women’s Bible study I helped host each week. Sadly—more than seventy years after the start of the Cultural Revolution in China—such restrictions seem to be tightening today. 

Often, when followers of Christ are persecuted and not allowed to gather and worship openly together, they end up going deeper in their faith and becoming emboldened to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Scripture, we see it in the early church right after Stephen was martyred for his faith (Acts 8:1–4). The persecution of believers increased and they scattered throughout the region, which ultimately helped spread the gospel. That’s also what happened in the “underground church” in China, where persecuted believers don’t take God’s Word for granted—even while risking imprisonment for their faith. 

Word-Driven Ministry

After living in China, I was asked to lead women’s ministry at a large church in the Detroit area. We were careful to keep our focus as a ministry on being Word-driven instead of event-driven.1 As our leadership team planned Bible studies and events for the calendar year, I often had those Christians in China in the back of my mind—believers who would give anything for the chance to gather openly to study God’s Word and worship together. Our vision was to make the study of the Word the top priority of our ministry, allowing it to transform lives, which would then have an eternal impact in our church and community.

Our women’s Bible studies, offered throughout the week with both morning and evening options, became the most sought-after ministries for women at our church. Yes, we still offered retreats, conferences, and outreach events—but studying, knowing, and teaching the truth of God’s Word remained the center of the ministry. 

There are many published Bible studies to choose from, but our experience found that they aren’t all equal. Some are watered down and more about the personality and opinions of the author, rather than truly digging into the Word. For additional help in this area, check out my post about how to choose the right Bible study.

In her bestselling book Women of the Word, author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin writes, 

Our study of the Bible is only beneficial insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims. Bible study is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is a means to love God more, and to live differently because we have learned to behold him better. And it is a means to become what we behold. The reciprocal love of God is a love that transforms (p. 148).2

In the midst of the pandemic, it’s interesting to watch how the focus of many ministries is going back to the core of teaching and studying God’s Word. It’s-all-about-me self-help events in massive auditoriums have been minimized due to restrictions of large gatherings. Instead, many Bible studies and worship conferences have gone virtual, allowing thousands of women from all over the world to gather through their e-devices to study God’s Word together—including women from closed countries with little or no access to a local church. 

May the beauty that arises from the ashes of the pandemic include more women—of all ages—being discipled through the study of God’s Word. Imagine the ripple effect of women becoming disciples who make disciples who make disciples! 

Keep God’s Word Central

As you enter into the fall season of leading women’s ministry, here are a few practical ways to keep God’s Word the center of your ministry (even in the midst of restrictions on gathering in large groups):

Outreach Bible Studies

The first outreach study I led was in our home in Beijing. Women from all over the world, many of them seekers, came every week as we studied the book of John together. As I led that study, I fell in love with God’s Word even more while watching my seeking friends fall in love with the living Word of God—Jesus—for the first time (John 1:1).

Now, more than ever, I think women who are seekers are more open to online Bible studies, book clubs, or even prayer groups. Women who would be hesitant to attend a study at a church may consider joining a virtual gathering. I encourage you to equip the women in your ministry to prayerfully consider offering a virtual Bible study with their seeking neighbors or family. I just heard a story from a friend who was burdened for her mother’s salvation for decades. Her mother recently chose to follow Christ after attending an online study!

Intergenerational Studies

One of my favorite Bible studies I ever attended was one that included women of all ages. I was in my thirties at the time, and I especially connected with a woman in her sixties who became my mentor and prayer partner. Though we now live thousands of miles apart, we still often pray together. 

Now may be the ideal time to create small discipleship groups (perhaps one leader for every two or three women being discipled) to meet in person or online using a Titus 2 curriculum such as Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth or True Woman 201: Interior Design by Mary Kassian and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Young Mom Studies

When my girls were babies and toddlers, I loved my once-a-week Bible study with other young moms, where our church provided free childcare for two hours every Tuesday morning. It was there that my love of the Word grew and where I was inspired to start an outreach study in my home for other young moms in my neighborhood. 

If childcare isn’t feasible right now, young moms can set up a study that meets in the evening on a digital platform after their children are tucked in bed. Take time to connect with working moms and single mothers to find out how the women’s ministry can meet their need for study and community.

Mother-Daughter Bible Studies

Author and teacher Dannah Gresh has been offering online mother-daughter Bible studies for several years now. Their popularity has increased since the pandemic hit, as more women are looking for online study options. Dannah usually co-teaches with a younger woman, focusing on one of her books or Bible studies geared to tweens or teen girls. Tap into DannahGresh.com for resources to bring to your local church that connect mothers and daughters. 

Tween and Teen Devotionals or Studies

As part of your women’s ministry, consider partnering with the youth ministry of your church to disciple girls who are tweens (8–12 years) or teens (13–18). Often, adult women in your ministry only need to be asked to consider leading a small group of tween or teen girls through a Bible study or mentor group. Thankfully, today there are many great Bible studies and devotionals available for this age group, including: Lies Young Women Believe and Study Guide (for teens), Lies Girls Believe (for tweens), and Mom’s Guide for that book. I also recommend Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild for teen girls. And Priceless (for young teens) and Beyond Priceless (for older teens). 

In addition to Bible studies, consider other creative ways to invite women to open their Bibles together, such as a group Bible reading plan or a Scripture memory challenge augmented by a private Facebook group.

Dear Leaders, as you continue to focus on a Word-driven ministry, may the women, teens, and young girls you serve join the heart’s cry of that precious woman from China: “This is what we needed the most!”

About the Author

Judy Dunagan

Judy Dunagan is an acquisitions editor for women's books and Bible studies at Moody Publishers. She has a heart for discipleship and making God's Word and prayer come alive in everyday life. She is the author of the book The Loudest Roar: Living in the Unshakable Victory of Christ. Judy and her husband Rick live in Colorado. Connect at Judy.Dunagan.com